I recently had occasion to mention the TV show “Webster” in conversation with Josh. I recalled the details of the episode in which Webster left safety matches in his closet, burned down his apartment, and then went back into the charred and blackened ruins to find Ma’am’s spoon and his beloved box of “men’s toes.” I noted that it seemed FIRE was a big thing back then, but you don’t see a lot of house-burns-to-the-ground storylines on TV or hear much about people having house fires these days.
Josh nodded. “Fire was a big thing in the ’80’s,” he said. “You were supposed to be afraid of fire. Well, fire and crack.”
I don’t remember being afraid of crack in elementary school, but boy was I terrified of fire. I believe this fear originated with the aforementioned Webster episode, but intensified when a girl in my Brownie troop lost all of her clothes and toys when her house burned down. Matters were not helped when a nearby tire factory exploded, releasing a bulbous cloud of noxious oily smoke.
Even after all that, I didn’t reach my highest level of terror until “Fire Safety Week” in first grade. Among other educational activities, we were shown a film about a family whose house caught on fire and was destroyed. I believe the narrator mentioned that several of the family’s children didn’t make it out of the conflagration. Creepy music played while footage of utter destruction slowly rolled on the projector. What an awesome movie to show a bunch of six year olds, huh? I think the take away point was that if you didn’t have a fire ladder at your window and a detailed fire evacuation plan for your house, you were going to be toast when your house caught on fire, as it inevitably would.
Did I have a fire ladder at my second floor window? No.
Were my parents interested in buying me one? No.
Did I have a detailed evacuation plan for my house? No.
Was my family interested in designing one? Not particularly.
I used to lie in bed at night afraid to go to sleep because I was sure that as soon as I did the house would catch fire and I wouldn’t wake up in time to get out (seeing as how I had no ladder or escape plan). Eventually I guess I realized that some people make it through life without having their house burn down, and I chilled out.
In hindsight, it was a total waste of time for me to be worried about fire. God has protected me from fire so far (except that one time when I was making pancakes while home from college and I set a fantastic kitchen fire, but it was all good because the insurance settlement got my parents a lovely remodel), and while it’s wise to take the proper precautions to avoid a fire, it’s sort of pointless to let fear of it paralyze you. As it turns out, what really should have been keeping me up at night was the unfortunate pouffy bangs phase I was about to enter in fourth grade, but you never get advance notice on horrible beauty and fashion developments, do you?
I still waste energy worrying over things I can’t control, only now I call it “problem-solving” or “analyzing the situation” or, if I’m being particularly honest, “failing to trust God.” Instead of lying awake fearful of the future, I should remember that God has been faithful to protect me (from fire and crack certainly, but also from more immediate dangers) and guide me (even in matters where I made bad decisions, such as the Era of Unfortunate Bangs, but also in more serious issues).
Do you ever feel like there are some lessons you have to learn over and over again?